Thursday, 26 August 2004

New Gym Game

When 4 out of 5 five-year-olds are in tears, the new gym game may be a little too energetic.

Sunday, 22 August 2004


After my months of good behaviour, it looks like I'm changing back into the old beast. Again, I nurse a hangover that is far more mild than I deserve after drinking until daylight. And after months of the selfless saving of orphans, I've not been there in five weeks.

Mum, don't worry, you have full permission to continue telling my older relatives that I'm the good child that I briefly was.

Actually, I've just struck a healthy balance. Just before my holiday in Laos, I recognised that my lifestyle was becoming far too hermitic. The only person I ever spoke to outside of work was Matt, just about. So I'm allowing myself to re-enter the social world a little. Not immerse myself, but just dip into my old pool of friends, and enjoy a few social drinks occasionally. My Korean studying has been very good this week and the teaching is hard work, so I feel I can partake in the occasional waster session.

As for the orphanage, I just felt it wasn't worth it. It was a lot of effort for ultimately little reward, for me or the orphans. If my purpose of going there was just to play games I wouldn't have minded, but any attempts at English teaching were futile. The lack of organisation made it impossible, so everyone's time was wasted. And being Saturday afternoon wasn't the best timing for me.

Anyway, my weekend has been a good one. On Friday night, straight after work, I went round to Hyo-Ju's (Gin Girl no. 1) house, for dinner with her and In-a. We ate it seated on the floor, round a small table in her bedroom. To my surprise, once in the bedroom, both shed their clothes and begged for deflowerment.

Wait, that last sentence isn't entirely accurate. No, we ate a civilised meal and then did some studying. I really enjoy these meetings; they too. They're very beneficial for my spoken and listening Korean, but the girls are also good fun. It's much easier to learn (and teach) when the teachers are both attractive girls in their early 20s. I think I'd have a harder job if they were pigs. But then I'm very superficial.

Of course, the girls are lucky too. Not just because they have Handsome Nev as their teacher, but because they've caught me in my well dressed phase. If they'd caught me at the start of the year, I was a scabby, shabby, shuffling wreck of a man.

That was my Friday night then, a meal and some enjoyable studying. It was an early night, thus a fairly early start to Saturday morning, which I spent reading about oppression of women in Iran. In the early afternoon Matt called by the apartment, as we had a plan for the day to walk north.

From my apartment rooftop, I have a great view of bouncy green mountains immediately to the north. Every time I see them, I think "I should walk to them one day" but I never get round to it. But after the near-storm of mid-week, I realised that the weather was going to be fairly cool and clear for a days, as opposed to the usual crushing humidity. This would be a perfect opportunity to explore these hills.

Matt agreed to join me, so we set off on our jaunt. We chose a small road that appeared to go in the right direction, and I think we chose well for it led to many interesting things.

The first was a passenger aeroplane, almost within touching distance flying over our heads. The airport is quite near my house and the incoming planes fly nearby. With the traffic noise, I rarely hear them, and just occasionally see them. However, upon turning a corner and hearing a noise that sounded like a lorry engine, we were both startled when a full sized aeroplane appeared suddenly, not more than a few seconds from landing on the nearby runway.

Anyway... I'm tired of writing now because I want to pick up some photos and drink some juice. Briefly, we found the oldest house in the Daegu area in a tiny village nestled between mountain, and then some kind of shaman shrine, appearing like a mirage in the middle of a forested area. Then we went downtown and ate some food and went out and drank and socialised and were very pleasant company for those around us.

Thursday, 19 August 2004

No Storm and New Kid

I'm very upset. In fact, I'd go as far to say that I feel like my soul has been raped. Because that storm I was looking forward to took a southern lurch and the best part bypassed Daegu. Therefore, while we got a lot of black cloud and a few intensely heavy showers of rain, when I woke up this morning it was merely a little windy with light rain. Now, in the afternoon, I can actually see blue sky. No tropical storm after all, which grieves me.

On a different note, Ocean class has a new student. I don't know his name yet, maybe Alfred, but I don't like him. He's bigger than the other kids and isn't as tamed as they are. However, in gym today I managed to make him cry. We have a game where they run round a circle trying to catch each other. I joined in and chased after him, and he got so excited that his little legs couldn't keep up with the speeds he was attempting, and he smashed into the wall and burst into tears.

That will teach that small child to mess with me.

Wednesday, 18 August 2004

Impending Storm

I'm very excited right now. Korea's about to hit by a typhoon/tropical storm, and the bad weather has just started to come. Yesterday the weather was hot and sunny, but waking up today I was greeted by rain, pishing it down. It's been going through spells of no rain/tons of rain all day.

This is just the warm up though. The BBC World weather forecast had the typhoon predicated as pretty much going directly through Daegu. Three raindrops decorated the weather's rain graphic, something I've very rarely seen before.

Rain is far more fun in Korea than it is in Scotland. In Scotland, rain is invariably linked with cold and wind. It doesn't rain heavily in Scotland, just persistently,. But in Korea, rain doesn't mess around. When it rains, it does it properly. It rains so that even a second without shelter will leave you soaked through. And in my experience, rain in Korea is usually associated with heat. In winter it never rained once, but now, in the summer, it gets stiflingly hot and then the heavens let loose.

It's been dark all day today, as very thick cloud cover utterly obscures the sun. Earlier, one of the darkest clouds I've ever seen passed over, so dark that when I turned the light off in the classroom it could almost have been night. There is a deeply ominous feeling in the air in this darkened world. The sense of the impending storm. A few distant rumbles of thunder have sent an early warning, as the rain stops and starts, practising for the big event.

The kindergarten morning trip to the outdoor swimming pool was cancelled today as a result. I don't really know why though, because they'd have got wet anyway.

Tuesday, 17 August 2004

Internet Porn And Other Stories

In the next couple of weeks, I hope to get internet in my apartment. I've been pretty lazy with writing entries here recently, so hopefully this will improve things. I keep having things I want to write about, but when I'm at school I have so little free time that I sometimes want to give my brain a rest.

This is why I've been equally as negligent of emails, which I apologise for.

Of course, having internet in my apartment may actually be detrimental as I spend my entire free time looking at porn. However, this would at least be better than looking at porn on the school computers. This I'd never do, but someone certainly is, as it's managed to infiltrate a couple of computers and completely infest one to the point it's barely usable. Fortunately, it's not immediate porn but just numerous links to porn, but it's still not terribly appropriate in a school for young children.

Who, therefore, is furtively looking at porn in his/her spare time on the school computers? Only one candidate springs to mind - I'll let you guess yourself. But I don't think it's any of the female teachers, and the porn first started appearing way before Daniel started working here. Leaving just one Western candidate.

I'm still in the slow process of writing up my week in Laos. This has been delayed because I've found myself on a tangent ranting about tourism and Westerners. When I finally finish, I think the overall account will run to about 10 pages. Laos made me very anti-Westerner, but I'm returning to a sensible frame of mind again, finally.

Ok, I have children to teach.

Friday, 13 August 2004


One of the noticeable things about moving to a different country, especially one with a much different climate from where I've been used to, is the change of insects. In Scotland, flies were high profile, as were bees and wasps, and ants too. Audibily, the only distraction they would cause was a low buzzing noise.

In Korea, I've seen no bees, no wasps, and relatively few flies. Maybe the heat and humidity makes them too lethargic to fly. Mosquitos enjoy the weather a little more, and pester for a couple of months. Mosquitos, although filled with malaria and blood, don't bother me too much. They've bitten me a few times but they have also given me great satisfaction upon their death by my hand. The fat mosquitos aren't as quick as flies - which are always difficult to kill - and so a swipe in the direction of a resting mosquito will very often kill it. I still have a large smear of blood on one of my walls at home, where a mosquito, fat on a feast of blood from my own body, was whacked with a book.

Ants are ubiquitous the world round. I find ants fascinating. There are quite a lot in my apartment, but they are very discreet so I don't mind. They are small and and faithfully parade along a few set routes, and behave more like a visitor than a pest. Sometimes I find a stray ant has wondered onto my semi-clad body, but I just blow him off (so to speak).

I like ants because the common worker ant cannot reproduce, and shares the exact same genetics as her sister workers (they are all, I believe, technically female). Therefore, they have no genetic responsibility to reproduce and have absolutely no concern for their own lives. Their entire lives are dedicated to the survival of the queen and nest, and the male fertlising ants (maybe "drones" although maybe that's bee terminology). A worker does not care about itself. It will run in a sudden change of environment or sign of danger not out of fear for itself, but because it is foolish to stay and die when its death would be of detriment to the overall strength of the nest.

Ants are best not thought of in individual terms, it is better to think of the entire ant nest as one collective individual, as all workers are mere genetic extensions of the god-like queen. They are as alien to humans as any fictional alien we've ever imagined. And I have a lot of respect for ants. Therefore, the open carton of juice I left on my windowsill a week or two ago, has not moved. Upon waking, and finding it infested with eager ants, I thought I would leave them to their feast. Such joy it brought to them was evident by the number of ants floating dead, their passion for the sweet juice overcoming them and taking away their better senses.

Ants are the most populous insect in my apartment then, but from my apartment and in Korea as a whole, the most conspiciously audible insect is the ciceda.

I have no idea how to spell ciceda. Ciceda/seceda/secada/ceceda/sicada etc, although I believe one of these spellings may, in fact, be the spelling of a popular American singer. I could look up the spelling but I can't be bothered. It's not important anyway, as I don't believe our ciceda friends care much for it. The only things the cicedas appear to care about is making as much noise as possible.

Cicedas have an incubation time of 17 years, or 13 years, or x years. It may vary depending on the ciceda and the place. But whatever, they remain incubating for quite some time before their full arrival into this world. And so to spend 99% of your life in stasis must be a fairly mundane existence, hence when they do finally appear to the world they are keen to enjoy every moment of it. Hence for the last month or two in Korea, the background noise is always the sound of celebrating cicedas.

They hang about in trees. Maybe bushes too, but any tree anywhere seems to be host to a lavish party of revelling cicedas. The noise is astonishing, considering the insect must be pretty small. I don't know how many live in a tree, but I was told about a hundred or so, but they make quite a racket. It's like a throbbing, croaking, rattling type of sound, quite high pitched. In the city it's loud enough, but in the countryside, with lots of trees and bushes, it can be quite overwhelming. Even in the city, while walking by a busy road, the sound of cicedas drowns out the sound of rushing traffic. They stop sometimes, for no obvious reason to us, but for them a subtle change of environment or unexpected sound might prompt them into silence, as if a rumour has flown about the party that the police are coming. Not just one tree stops, but long lines of trees all stop in an instant, so that the background noise of the world suddenly goes from the shriek of cicedas into silence again, but only for a moment.

The strangest insect noise I've heard in Korea was undoubtedly at Matt's cousin, Nicki's, who lives in the country (the place I stayed in my first week here). I woke up in the morning and it took me quite a while to comprehend what I was hearing could be an insect. It sounded like the electrical system of a robot malfunctioning and whirring out of control. It started with a buzz, like that of an electric strimmer, then an electrical pulse with an ever quickening sine wave so that it pulsed more and more rapidly and finally this high pitched squeal joined our electrical equation as it all became more and more manic and seemed to reaching some kind of unbearable peak before it stopped completely. It was very loud, especially the low buzzing (which sound entirely unnatural) and I got the impression the noise was just made by the single, crazy, and possibly futuristic insect.

Any other information on insects in Korea you will have to look up yourself. Right now, I have to get back to another species of creature, i.e. that which I am teaching.

Thursday, 12 August 2004

Clara's Leaving Night

My left eye is red and I'm wearing glasses. Often this is a sign that I've been drinking and passed out with my contact lenses in, although this isn't quite the case. True, I did end up drinking till 4am last night, a school night, but my eye had had it well before then. During the day it had burst into virtual flames and I removed it before the forthcoming drinking session.

Yes, as commented in a recent email to me, I appear to be reverting to type. Since my holiday with the dirty white ladies from Scotland, posing as my friends but actually a gross disturbance in my life, I have done virtually no revision and have been drunk an unthinkable two times. My Korean revision has been shot to hell. Bad boy Nev is showing hints of his ugly head once more, and we can only hope and pray that Good boy Nev can show resilience.

Last night was a very amusing night, and rather wild in many ways. Rarely have I seen such unrestrained enthusiasm, with ladies whooping for joy and dancing like crazies. Not for me, alas, but for the joy that is known as the norebang. This, for those that don't know, is Korean karaoke, always in private rooms. But we'll get to that later.

Being a week night, I usually never venture out of my apartment, holing myself up like some rancid dog crawled under an overspilling skip. I watch Friends while I eat dinner, then try to be in bed before 9pm. That's the theory. But as I was finishing work yesterday, Clara appeared. Clara is one of the ex-teachers from here. She left about a month or so ago, and is set to go to Canada to study in a week's time. So her appearance was a farewell appearance, and it transpired that a meal out was planned, with most of the current teachers plus some stars of old.

Current teachers present were the ever-social David (he left quite abruptly during the meal because he was bored/tired), Jesse, Winnie, Rachel and Cathy. Returning faces were the boisterous Jasmine (who left Castle School just as I started), the very pleasant Ally, Chan and Sharon.

I was quite alarmed when first seeing Sharon. I don't know what she's doing since she stopped being a teacher at Castle School, but I wouldn't rule out crack whore. She used to dress quite plainly with loose clothing, but last night it was a tight day-glo yellow top, a pile of lipstick and some severe glasses. I considered slipping her 50,000 Won to see what it would get me, but decided against it in the end.

We ate at a standard Korean restaurant at first, just gathered on the floor round a long series of tables, cooking our own meat. Even at this early stage, soju was being liberally knocked back with a relish only Koreans could have for their national drink. Soju is such a mindless, foul spirit. However, once you get past the first few shots, it stops being so directly vile. I impressed Chan with my Korean, which has improved a lot since I've last seen him. When I say impressed, I mean in the same way people are impressed when a retarded child does some very basic task. My Korean is still deep down at idiot level, which garners quite a lot of patronising praise for my feeble efforts in stringing a few words together. However, as I quite enjoy being patronised (especially by attractive Korean girls) I don't mind.

We moved onto another nearby restaurant then, this one outside and dealing in seafood. Or shells and mussels of various types. Not filling but very tasty, although the wait for everything to cook before us made the ultimate experience of dining a little unsatisfying. At this point, drunkenness with my companions was surfacing. Not too obviously, but the ladies were beginning to get loud and racous and starting to screech like banshees in the way that women the world round do when they get together and drink. Most of the conversation was lost on me, but I was filled in on a few interesting details.

It appears that Daniel (not present) is not necessarily the most popular member of staff. Although he irritated me when he first started, I like Daniel now. He's a bit cheesy, but is helpful and funny and easy to talk to. But his charm with me does not appear to have rubbed on on the ladies. It was all a bit vague, but something was insinuated regarding an approach to Sharon (presumably before her crack whore days) and there was also a suggestion he was pursuing glam-girl Jessie. Poor old 35 year old good Christian Daniel. I think he's just desperate for a wife.

Of more interest was the mentiion of my name a few tmes. Chan never revealed the exact content of the conversation but I got the impression it was about my "handsome boy" status. This is something, believe it or not, that is true. Especially since buying a whole new wardrobe I'm a very handsome young man. In Korea at least, where my pasty skin and beard is a novelty. When meeting "Eric" about the summer camp last Sunday, he made a reference to having been told by the Gin Girls that I was good looking. Truly, I am Handsome Nev.

All this took up until about 1am, at which point a complaint from someone in a nearby apartment ended our outside dining, drinking and chatting. We were making too much noise, it seems, with the cackles of drunken females keeping the good people of Daegu awake long into the night. This disruption did not end the revelry though, oh no. It simply shifted it up a couple of gears and we flocked into a nearby norebang.

I've seen a few things in my life. I've been to many countries, met many people from around the world, and seen times of joy and sadness. But up until last night I'd never seen the sheer abandon that comes when a group of usually very civilised young Korean ladies take to the karaoke after an evening of hard drinking. They went wild. Korean song after Korean song (all sounding identical to me) came up, and they were dancing around and singing with great enthusiasm. Rachel, the quietiest member of staff by a long way, usually quite surly and grumpy looking, was transported into UK early 90's club culture as she danced it up rave style, as if she was appearing into a video for 2Unlimited. Everyone was whooping continuously. I'm talking loud whoops of joy and excitement at every moment of every song. They truly were loving it. It was sheer celebration in that little noraebang room.

Chan was pulling some swift moves too, as he sang a few numbers himself, playing tricks with the microphone like a seasoned pro. Even more smoothly, for the slow numbers he initiated some slow dancing with some of the ladies.

Of course, I won't pretend I was immune to the revelry. With beers finally added to the bottles of soju drank already, I was happy and joined in the manic dancing. I managed to avoid all singing though, because my singing is usually so genuinely bad that it sounds like I'm intentionally singing badly. However, after much persuasion I succumbed for one song, and I opted for a Korean song. It went alright actually, my singing voice didn't let down all of Scotland, and I managed to mostly keep up with the subtitles onscreen.

This scene of civilised teachers gone wild continued for some time, breaking through any tiredness barriers. When I was still in school I could never have imagined teachers behaving with such little restraint, and it was very amusing to see what simple karaoke could do to otherwise respectable ladies (and gents I suppose, although I've long been aware of what alcohol can do to me.) We departed the noraebang at about 3.30am and I was home by 4am. The night was such a success that plans are now in place to make it a monthly event.

So, this morning was a little rough, after just a few hours sleep, but I wasn't feeling too worse for wear. The kids didn't seem to notice than my energy levels were sagging and that I didn't appear to care what they did. After lunch though, and a big turd, I was back to normal and so the rest of the day should cruise by easily.

Monday, 9 August 2004

Weekend Activities

My late phonecall has been clared up now. It was indeed a genuine call, and not some prank from Matt.

To that in a minute. First, a quick summary of the rest of my weekend.

For months my weekend has been structured along the basis of me being a good person with Korean classes and orphanages and not getting wasted. However, for the next few weeks I've decided to revert back to being the useless non-constructuve member of society I once was. Because I need a break from all this good behaviour for a while.

On Friday night I went out with Matt on the explicit intention of bad behaviour. This we managed, although only in the sense that we were dreadful company to be around, had no decent chat, were sleazy, drunken and anti-social, and were the least charming we've been for a considerable time.

Needless to say, neither of us had any success with the ladies, although our pathetic failings did give us a source of amusement for all of Saturday.

I only woke up at 3pm on Saturday, which is ludicrously late, although I'd only got to be at 9.30 that morning. It was a mostly wasted day, except for the evening where I met up with Matt at Rebecca's flat, with Nicky and some other girl called Jenn (I think) also appearing. Jenn is new to Daegu and lives in Rebecca's block. She seemed perfectly pleasant but I couldn't get over her eyebrows. They completely obscured my view of her as a person because all I could do when looking at her was focus on the eyebrows and think "what is happening there?"

What is happening there? I really don't know, but it's not normal. I profess no expertise in eyebrow art, but to me it looks like she's shaved off her eyebrows and then got a thick brown crayon and painted these wonky lines above her eyes. If the wonky lines were in the right place I might be able to let it go, but they are at crazy angles. And they look so deliberately fake.

I'm very scared of ever getting drunk around this girl, because I will inevitably start telling her about my concerns.

On Saturday night, after much lounging, we ended up at the cinema and watching Van Helsing. This is a famous Hollywood summer smash, and featured Mr H Jackman as the title character, who goes about killing monsters. I don't know if there is a sequel planned because he killed most of the main monsters in this one. I suppose he could still kill Godzilla, and the Minotaur, and loads of aliens, but all these monsters are somewhat incongruous with the mythical world that Dracula, the Wolfman and Frankenstein's monster inhabit.

I should mention that my previous home, Old Slains Castle in Scotland, provided the inspiration for Bram Stoker's Dracula.

Sunday was Gin Girl day. I met them at noon for a couple of hours for our usual English-Korean exchange, and then met Gin Girl A (Hyo-Ju) later in the evening with her friend "Eric" and his fiance Gun-Wa (or something).

Yes, it transpired that my mysterious late night phonecall was an authentic one, from a school director in the nearby town/city of Gumi. He'd heard about me through Hyo-Ju, hence how he knew about me being in Laos. Also likely is what I interpreted as "two daughters that I taught called soju" was more likely him simply mentioning the two Gin Girls, one of which is Hyo-Ju.

Anyway, he phoned on Friday and I was awake this time and we met on Sunday evening, together with his fiance and Hyo-Ju and we went for a meal. His English was very good and we chatted about all sorts of things, but the main point was a summer camp in two weeks. It's only for Friday night and Saturday day, and all I have to do his hang around. No teaching, just float about being white and knowing my native language. For this I get paid 100,000 Won, about £50. It sounds like rather easy money.

That's about it for now. I'm feeling unusually tired today, despite the fact I only got up at 9am. I've been out of my early morning schedule since returning from the holiday but I'm going to get back into it tomorrow morning.

It's also been adsurdly hot recently. It's always hot these days, but on Sunday just a simple walk to the shops was a near death experience. The sun was just burning, and the humidity makes it all the more intense. Somestimes, I do miss Scottish weather a little.

Friday, 6 August 2004

Strange Phonecall

I'll hopefully have my Laos holiday written up for the weekend, and then everything will be up to date once again and I'll start writing a little more regularly, but in the meantime, I received a strange phonecall last night.

The call came at 11.30pm last night, although I didn't know that at the time. All I knew was that I found myself woken up from my sleep and suddenly on the phone. I barely remember the first minute of the phonecall as my world was still a hazy, confused mess and what was being said to me only confused me more.

When my senses did slowly come to me, I became aware I was speaking to a Korean man. I really have no idea about the exact content of the first minute of conversation, but I recall him saying his name, and that he had two daughters at Castle School, where I teach. The part that really threw me was that he said his daughter's names were "soju". In case you don't know, soju is the national drink of Korea, a toxic and noxious clear liquid the Koreans love to pour down their throats, and it can mess you up in a big way. So having two daughters called "soju" was just plain odd. However, as I was still finding consciousness at this stage, I couldn't quite comprehend my own confusion so let it pass.

When my senses finally began to fall into place, my instincts were to presume that this was a prank call. The broken English was understandable but the accent could have been from anywhere, not just Korea. It might have been Spanish. Also, my brain was still processing the ludicrous daughter-soju claim. I almost put the phone down because it was all seeming too bizarre. But I continued to listen.

The man - Eric was his name - was talking about a summer camp, a summer camp for English. He was wondering if I'd like to come along, and that I'd be paid of course. It was in two weeks time, either in Gyeongju or Gumi, and was just for Friday night. My responses were either monosyllabic or confused questions like "What are you talking about?", "Who are you again?" and "A summer camp for one night?".

All the time I was expecting a prank with Matt suddenly appearing on the phone laughing at me, but Eric kept on talking, seeming perfectly serious. All of a sudden, he asked me if I enjoyed my holiday in Laos, which really threw me and had me further convinced it was a prank.

Eventually, I just had to say that he'd have to phone me again. It had to be a prank and I couldn't face it in my haze, but neither did I want to risk offence by slamming the phone down in case it wasn't. I told him that I was very confused as he'd just woken me from my sleep, and to call me tomorrow evening and I'd be able to think properly then. He apologised for waking me from my sleep, and that was that.

Subsequent thoughts, and speaking to David, and I think the call may have been genuine. Summer camps for just a weekend do exist, and I'd basically just be spending a weekend playing games with kids, speaking English. Likely, he phoned the school last week and got my number through them, which would have been when they'd have said I was away on holiday to Laos. Hopefully he'll phone me again and I can make a bit more sense of it all, and be less confused and defensive as I was last night. Mind you, if he calls me at 11.30pm, then he shouldn't expect a bright and happy response from me.

However, if it turns out that Matt was behind all this, just to wind me up, I'll kick the wholesome good looks off his stupid, happy face.

Wednesday, 4 August 2004

Laos pt 1

I'm back, but have been too busy to write properly. Hopefully I'll do some more catching up today, but for the time being here is what I wrote about my holiday yesterday... (it ends quite suddenly)


It's back to work then, in a rather subdued school as many of the kindergarten are still on holiday. My Rainbow class only had 3 of 11 today, so we just watched a video. I expect the rest of my day to not quite be so easy, although as with yesterday I expect class numbers to be slightly depleted.

I arrived back in Daegu at 11pm on Sunday, after about 36 hours of continuous travel and little useful sleep, and was at work less than 12 hours later. Surprisingly not too tired, though I slept well last night. Although just a week's holiday, it seemed like a lot more and so I'm having to re-adjust to being back to work and stable life as if I'd been away a month.

I last wrote over a week ago, I believe, in the Lao capital Vientiane. The next day I took a 10.30am bus with Emily and Rosie to Laos's second largest (but far less visited) city, Savanakhet, population 120,000.

The bus journey took most of the day, stuffed in a busy bus that stumbled along crumbling roads, past numerous wooden houses on stilts. Actually, the road was in reasonable condition because it is one of Laos' main roads and so wasn't punctured by potholes or covered in gravel as I believe many roads are. Still, it wasn't exactly UK motorway quality, possibly more comparable to a little winding road somewhere in the Highlands. Fortunately, as the main traffic was little motorbikes there wasn't a big problem with traffic congestion. It wasn't a bad journey though: despite bumping around perpetually, the scenery was interesting. Mostly flat, with a few hills later, but it was the numerous little wooden houses and occasional house/shop hybrid that were interesting. Most were on stilits, to avoid flooding during the wet season (which is now), although the open area made by the stilts was effectlively used as a room by the extended family of each house. In many of these houses, electrictity and running water weren't exactly built-in - little concession had been made to the events of the last few hundred years of modernisation. Still, it looked naively idyllic, as families lay around in the heat, which chickens and dogs running around with the children. Everyone looked quite happy, much moreso than the average dour Aberdonian face or rushing Daegu resident. However, as Laos has an almost 1% infant mortality rate and is one of the poorest countries on Earth, I would guess that the idyllic scene portrayed as my bus struggled by was not a lifetime of nirvana for those living it daily.

Our 9 hour, £2.25 bus journey arrived some time after 7pm, with darkness recently fallen. The bus station was on the outskirts of town so we needed to get a tuk-tuk (a motorbike front with covered seats for up to four Westerners/200 natives on the back) to our accommodation of choice, the Mekong Hotel. Rosie and Emily, being filthy travellers, always wanted to get the cheapest accommodation but as I was on holiday I wanted a little more luxury. Therefore I was quite happy to subsidise them in the slightly swankier setting of the Mekong Hotel, costing a whopping £6 a night for a spacious three bedroom room with bath and shower (admittedly cold and flaccid).

We ate some food and then went in search of some nightlife. The Lonely Planet's suggestion of a nearby cafe was found to be wanting as while the cafe existed, and while it was open, and while it served alcohol, it was entirely void of people or atmosphere. And so all the streets seemed to be. Savanakhet was very quiet.

Then we stumbled upon a few local youth outside a cafe or shop, sitting at a table, and Rosie's impressive communication skills came to the rescue. Despite only knowing a few words of Lao, she managed to get across the idea that we were looking for somewhere to go drinking and the youths were more than happy to help. They jumped up and told us to get on their motorbikes, and motored down a series of dirty mud roads spotted with puddles and to some red neon bar crammed with young Savanakhetters drinking and merrymaking. And singing karaoke, a very popular past-time in most Asian countries it would seem.